Bears get Smith's angry message, rally to beat Lions
Defense responds following poor 1st half, helps pave way to 5th straight win
Brandon Manumaleuna plows through Detroit's Amari Spievey for the go-ahead touchdown. (Chris Sweda, Chicago Tribune / December 5, 2010)
The stoic coach you see on the sideline turned into a yeller in the locker room when he lit into his defense, which had lollygagged its way through the first half against the Lions — a team competing to avoid the booby prize of the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Smith was emphatic with his message and his players responded, rallying for a key fourth-down stop and then going ahead for good on a 7-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to Brandon Manumaleuna.
There won't be any style points handed out for the 24-20 win, the 19th consecutive NFC North loss for the Lions, but it might be just what the Bears need as they prepare to watch the Patriots on Monday night, their opponent Sunday at Soldier Field in a game some will bill as a potential Super Bowl preview.
"Sometimes it is good to get a slap in the face so we wake up," defensive end Israel Idonije said. "Of course, (Smith) was pissed. He is a defensive guy. Did he raise his voice a little bit? Of course. He wasn't happy. He knows how good we are so to see us play down to that level, it had him fired up. That's how to finish. That's our defense."
The Bears (9-3) have ensured a winning season with their fifth consecutive victory and are a game ahead of the Packers in the NFC North while remaining in the mix for the top seed in the NFC, trailing only the 10-2 Falcons. It also ensures Cutler, who was workmanlike in completing 21 of 26 passes for 234 yards and the one score, will be on a winning team for the first time since high school.
The defense wasn't recognizable when it allowed Detroit's third quarterback Drew Stanton, in his second NFL start, to help the Lions roll up 253 yards of offense in the first half. The final 91 yards came in two plays — a 45-yard run by Jahvid Best when cornerback Charles Tillman blew outside contain, and then a 46-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson, who blew away nickel cornerback D.J. Moore in the slot.
The score gave the Lions a 17-14 halftime lead and capped 30 minutes of missed tackles and botched assignments.
"He was hot," linebacker Lance Briggs said of the coach.
It got worse before it got better. Cutler was sacked and stripped by Turk McBride on the second play of the third quarter, setting up the Lions (2-10) with first-and-goal from the 9. The defense bowed, holding Detroit to a 25-yard Dave Rayner field goal. It was a sign of things to come as the Lions amassed only 49 yards in the second half.
Devin Hester had a 30-yard punt return, one that almost went the distance, that led to Robbie Gould's career-long 54-yard field goal, and then Moore redeemed himself, breaking up Stanton's fourth-and-1 pass at midfield intended for Nate Burleson, the guy who guaranteed all week Detroit would win.
Cutler quickly led the Bears downfield and got to the 7 after Ndamukong Suh was called for unnecessary roughness on a controversial hit from behind on the quarterback. Cutler then hit a wide-open Manumaleuna, and on the ensuing possession, Moore came up with another big play, sacking Stanton to help lead to a punt. This time, the Bears ran out the clock.
A letdown game a week after a hard-fought win over the Eagles? Sure, the Bears didn't have the energy and fire they possessed a week earlier against the Eagles. But you take wins in all shapes and sizes.
"We didn't have as much energy as we have had all season long, especially in the first half, anyway," safety Chris Harris said. "It's inexcusable. No matter who we are playing, we should come out the way we came out against the Eagles every week."
That's a speech Smith won't have to deliver this week.